Passion now a career

Holly ThompsonManjimup-Bridgetown Times
Bridgetown's Emily Smith is a published comic book illustraton.
Camera IconBridgetown's Emily Smith is a published comic book illustraton. Credit: Manjimup-Bridgetown Times

A combined passion for art and inclusivity throughout life has driven Emily Smith into a career illustrating comic books and setting up Dungeons and Dragons games for Lower South West youths.

For as long as she can remember, Emily has always been surrounded by art and said her father was a landscape artist in Dunsborough growing up.

“He was very encouraging of me which was nice, he was actually part of an artists’ collective and so I spent a lot of time in my formative years around other artists,” she said.

“I feel there is a very prevalent attitude that art is not a real job but because of my upbringing around other artists, this attitude bypassed me completely.

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“I never felt discouraged about seeking art as a profession.”

Emily said while she had grown up around art, she had not thought about comic books until she turned 17 and moved to Perth.

“This was when I really found out comics were not just brightly-coloured superhero stories or Mickey Mouse cartoons,” she said.

“The Preacher comics ... showed me comics can be used as a story-telling format for adults and I completely fell in love with it and decided it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Emily now works for a publisher named Gestalt Comics, which she described as a group that helped create story-driven, creator-owned graphic novels.

The most recent graphic novel she has worked on is the Cleverman series, based on the ABC show by Ryan Griffen.

“The comics are an extension to the story, it was great to draw the characters and help to build the universe and it was a lot of fun to try and mimic the characters seen on screen in a graphic novel format,” Emily said.

“I think Cleverman is one of the pieces I am proudest of, the other one is working on the Love is Love anthology, which raised money for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

“As a queer person myself, being able to contribute to this project at a time when we all felt hopeless and angry was a good outlet.”

Emily worked on a page of the Love is Love anthology with Melbourne-based creator Tom Taylor and said he wrote the script for her to then illustrate.

“It was of two male superheroes who were also in a relationship and the story was of them reacting to the news of the shooting and comforting each other, it was something quite close to both of our hearts,” she said.

Alongside her work as a comic book illustrator, Emily’s love for fantasy stories has also inspired her to set up Dungeons and Dragons games through Blackwood Youth Action.

“One day I just showed up at Blackwood Youth Action and volunteered to run a Dungeons and Dragons group for some of the teenagers here,” she said.

“Over the couple of years it has been running it has really grown and I am now a paid facilitator on a part-time basis with some volunteer hours as well.”

Emily said she was “huge believer” in using the game as a tool for both education and therapy.

“It is a really valuable pastime, it has huge benefits in terms of teaching social interaction as well as having proven benefits for literacy, mathematics, team work and more,” she said.

“It is really brilliant and of course you get to learn all that while hitting goblins with swords.”

Now that many people are self-isolating due to the COVID-19 crisis, Emily has found a way to bring the games online.

“I have converted all the games to an online format using a virtual table top so the kids can still participate and socialise while maintaining sensible social distancing,” she said.

In the future Emily said she would love to continue to help run the games and to also publish her first graphic novel, which she would be writing as well as illustrating.

“This idea is still very much at the scripting and concept stage, it has got a long way to go yet but hopefully in a year or two it will be done,” she said.

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